Washington Nationals' Lefty John Lannan: The Invisible Starter.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: Gaby Sanchez #15 of the Florida Marlins stares down John Lannan #31 of the Washington Nationals during a game at Sun Life Stadium on September 27, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

You're as likely to find 27-year-old left-hander John Lannan's name on a Washington Nationals fan's list of the pitchers most likely to be dealt this winter or be pushed out of the rotation next Spring by the next generation of Nats' arms as you are likely to find the '05 11th Round pick out of Siena College listed as part of Washington's projected 2012 rotation.

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo mistakenly left Lannan off a list of the Nationals' starters in a recent interview on MLB Network Radio, but when the omission was mentioned, the general manager quickly corrected himself, apologizing for what he said was a simple oversight. "John's been a great pitcher for us, he's terrific," Rizzo told the show's hosts, "A middle-3.00 ERA, a ground ball machine, guy who's going to give us 185.0-200.0 innings. He's a good piece for us. He's a big piece for us. That was just an omission on my part."

Lannan finished his fifth major league season with a (10-13) record and a career-best 3.70 ERA and 4.28 FIP over 33 starts and 184.2 IP, leading the team in wins, starts and innings pitched. The left-hander continued to walk a lot of batters (76 BB or 3.70 BB/9 which was the highest total by 30 BB of any Nats' starter) but he also led the team in GB% (54.1%), which was the sixth highest GB% among National League pitchers, with Lannan's 274 ground ball outs also the 6th highest total in the NL to go along with the second-highest double play total in the NL, with 26 to fellow left-handed sinker-baller Joe Saunder's 28. Lannan also struck out more batters (106 or 5.17 K/9) than he had since 2008 when he K'd 117 in 182.0 IP (5.79 K/9).

After a strong stretch of 11 starts in June and July in which Lannan was (5-2) with Washington 7-4 in the lefty's outings, Lannan (3-6) with the Nats (4-7) over his last 11 starts. After he'd given up 56 hits and 23 runs, 21 earned in 65.0 IP in which he walked 24 and struck out 35 in June/July, the left-hander surrendered 72 hits and 36 runs, 25 earned in 58.1 IP in August and September over which he walked 27 and struck out 34. Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson spoke often about what he saw from the dugout and what caused Lannan's struggles down the stretch. "When he sometimes gets a little tired," Johnson told reporters in August, "He humps up and then the ball comes up." 

"[Lannan] still has a tendency to just kind of overthrow," Johnson said when he brought up the topic again in the last month of the season. "He gets in a groove in [the 2nd, 3rd and 4th] where he starts pitching, but sometimes he tries to power the ball and his misses start coming up and he usually does that early in the ball game. If you watch closely, I get a really good view, he's throwing a lot of pitches a little bit up for him early and then he kind of gets more in command." After he'd dropped his sixth game in seven starts from mid-August through mid-September, the Nats' skipper was asked if it was a disappointing end to a relatively strong season by Lannan?

"Yeah," the manager said, "We all expect a lot out of him. He's got good stuff. He's pitched out of some jams, making quality pitches and in this league, occasionally if you leave one out over the plate and up, you're going to get hit." The left-hander, Johnson said, "... sometimes overthrows. I like it when he's using that sinker and not trying to overthrow it. He gets a lot of ground balls, and when you see line drives to the outfield or whatever, the fastball's up. But he's got great stuff." 

The Nats' GM placed Lannan, who's due a raise in arbitration this winter after making $2.75 million last year, in the 2012 rotation in the MLB Network Radio interview alongside Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang and one of either Ross Detwiler, Tom Milone or Brad Peacock, but the Nationals are still searching for a starting pitcher with right-hander Roy Oswalt and lefties C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle reportedly on the Nationals' radar. Milone and Peacock could get more innings in at Triple-A Syracuse should the Nats acquire a new starter. Ross Detwiler, however, is out of options. There are some tough decisions ahead for the Nationals.

You can never have too much pitching, but there are only so many spots available at the major league level. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters earlier this offseason that he's happy with what Washington has now in terms of pitching, but never satisfied.

"I really like the way the rotation is set right now," Rizzo told reporters, "I think that we have great depth there, we have great talent and we have upper rotation guys, we have some middle of the rotation guys and we've got some back-of-the-rotation guys. We've got a great minor league system. We've got guys that are knocking on the door and probably should be pitching in the big leagues this coming season and may not be. I think that's a tribute to where we're at as an organization." John Lannan's helped the Nationals get to where they are as an organization, will he be there when Washington takes the next step?

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